Charity in Advent

Friday, Dec. 09, 2022
Charity in Advent + Enlarge
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

As I undertake spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas, I am focusing on the virtue of charity, particularly love of neighbor. Both the Old Testament and the New are adamant on this point: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lv 19:18), which Jesus said is the second most important commandment (Mark 12:31); and St. James issued the challenge to “Show me your faith apart from your works” (James 2:18).
In addition to what the Bible teaches, our faith holds that charity is the first of the theological virtues, but it’s one I struggle with. In one sense I do offer charity: I regularly donate to the Utah Food Band and Catholic Relief Services. Where I fail is in seeing Christ in others. My standard response when I see a person begging is the Sabbath Prayer from “Fiddler on the Roof” (“May the Lord protect and defend you”); if I come to an intersection where someone is holding up a sign I pray either for a green light or for at least three other vehicles to stop ahead of me; I avert my eyes and shake my head if someone approaches me on the street. 
However, I have been improving in this matter. I attribute this to a practice I began about a year ago. Whenever I pray at mealtime, I ask the Lord not only to bless the food I am about to eat but also for him to bless those who go without. Making a daily conscious effort to remember those who are hungry somehow has made me more aware that they are individuals, not just mouths to feed.
Another aid has been education. A couple of years ago, a friend asked me to join her in the SNAP challenge: to limit my food purchases to the amount one receives through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal government program that replaced food stamps. I spent the next week eating mostly peanut butter and tuna. Rather than the myth that people on food stamps can dine on steak and lobster, the fact is that in Utah the average per person benefit comes out to about $3 a day; with that budget, you can’t feast on surf and turf. 
As part of that experience, I learned more about SNAP, which I asked our senators to support when approval for funding came up earlier this year. It’s easy to support the program when you know the facts. For example, individuals who qualify earn less than $1,500 a month. The vast majority who benefit from it are children, seniors and adults with disabilities; a person who is not disabled must work at least 20 hours a week or participate in job training. In Utah, more than half of those receiving SNAP benefits are children under the age of 18; about 6 percent are older than 60 and about 12 percent are persons with disabilities, according to 2017 statistics.  
All of this has helped me see people who are hungry as my neighbor, and to have mercy on them. Of course, this is only a portion of what I as a Christian am called to see; Jesus said we are to see him “in the least of his brothers:” those who are not only hungry but thirsty, who are strangers, who need clothes, who are sick, who are in prison.
“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice,” said St. John Chrysostom, and my Advent prayer this week is to continue to strive to see Christ in the one so that I may encounter him in the other. 
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at

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